I've worked in the music industry for over 20 years and, even as so many things have changed, one thing remains the same: Your live show can make or break you. Much like Marvin Mosby wrote in his “Why Nobody Is Buying Your Music” post, you really can't fake it… not if you really want to make it.
Old School 101
The artists that pretty much everyone agrees are classic – whether you enjoy their music or not – all have toured consistently throughout their careers and continue to do so. At 63, Stevie Nicks is about to kick off a solo trek and she's well aware of the passing time: “At the moment, I can't stop. If I ever feel I'm doing things that are age-inappropriate, I might reconsider. But female opera singers work into their 70s. Why not a rock singer?”
Yes, why not? Even when their records sales have faltered, truly talented artists' ticket sales have remained robust. (Think Paul McCartney.) Some are even known more for their live performances than their records. Sure their albums sell well, but their tours go crazy. Prince is a great example, having just completed a 21-night run in Los Angeles. Can you name his last release?
Biggers Not Always Better
U2, Dave Matthews Band, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Elton John, Bob Dylan… these guys are all still out on the road causing a ruckus with a minimum of 20 years of touring on their resumes. Though U2 still makes a big to-do of it all, bigger isn't always better. And it's certainly not required, despite what Katy Perry might think. She told Rolling Stone recently, “Touring is no longer an ordinary thing where you play an instrument in jeans and a T-shirt. It has some pizzazz these days, and I'm definitely bringing the pizzazz with a lot of bells and whistles.”
In contrast, Janet Jackson, who is embarking upon her Up Close and Personal Tour, has re-established her footing on stage by actually taking it down a notch. One critic noted, “This straightforward but effective production goes a long way toward restoring Janet Jackson’s reputation as one of the finest female pop superstars of the modern era. As a total package she’s still leagues ahead of perennially popular Britney Spears and suddenly stalled Christina Aguilera.” If she's leagues ahead of those two, she can't even see Perry in her rear view mirror.
And that's just it – you can have “pizzazz,” but if that's all you have, then you really don't have much. Janet Jackson has broken record after record throughout her lengthy career. Sure, Katy Perry has enjoyed some hits, but will anyone still pay to see her in 20 years?
But the younger, emerging generation of artists does have some bright spots, some future classics in its midst. Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontagne, and others not only make great records but they rock the socks off their live audiences, to boot. My money's on them.
Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below. Be honest!
Guest Post: Writer and music biz veteran Kelly McCartney cites Shaun Cassidy, Kenny Rogers, and Rick James among her early musical loves. These days, she’s more likely to be listening to Josh Garrels, Gillian Welch, and TV on the Radio. Learn more about how Kelly could help you at http://www.thekelword.com/.